Since most of our members haven’t experienced an actual critique session, I thought it be good to devote a session to prepare them for their first ever critique.
So on August 11, 2010, We had our second meetup at Barnes & Noble, Manhattan Beach. The free (and ample) parking spots were a bonus compared to the massive interior of the bookstore and the spacious Starbucks coffee shop.
I had asked several members to show up earlier than the others to help me set up. Of course, they had no idea what they were really in for. I sprung the surprise once they were all assembled: they were going to be part of the first ever Torrance Children’s Book Writing Group Leadership Team.
After getting over the surprise, they eagerly went to their roles. They helped with the sign-in ---distributing nametags and membership forms to the members who were joining us for the first time. They also helped collect fees to help with the materials and the monthly website fee.
When he had all bought our drinks and snacks, we settled around the tables and began the introductions. We shared our names, what we were currently writing or what we hoped to write, and answered the question we had drawn from a box. The box was filled with questions like: “What’s the one book you would like to have with you if you were stranded on an island?” Aside from being a great way to get to know people, the questions might help spark the next story idea.
Since we had five new members, I had to re-introduce the group. I told them we would have writing sessions, critique sessions, discussions on various writing books and children’s books and much more. I also shared some writing events that they might be interested in attending, such as the UCLA Writer’s Faire on August 22nd, and the various book signings at Borders.
After these announcements, we dove into the Writing Worksheet. The questions on the worksheet helped us reflect on our writing past, our current skills as writers, and helped us set writing goals we wish to achieve.
Once we shared where our writing goals and dreams, I told them we had to do something about it. If we want to get published and accomplish our goals, we needed to take ourselves seriously. After all, if we don’t take our own dreams seriously, who else will?
One way to take our writing goals seriously is to make time for writing and other writing related activities. I gave out the following worksheets based on Evan Marshall’s Marshall Plan for Novel Writing.
The worksheets had the following aims:
1. Writing Time and Place Chart
- To help us develop discipline and routine as writers.
2. Choosing Genres Worksheet
- To help us hone in on what genre/ type of book we will be truly comfortable writing –something we can actually commit to
3. Story Idea Crisis Worksheet
- To give us ideas about what we want our book to be about, and if we already have story ideas--to hone in on the bare bones crisis/ idea that our storyline will be based on
4. Story Idea Checklist Worksheet
- To help us hone our basic plot and our main character’s goal
5. Manuscript Preparation Worksheet
- To help us figure out our target word length
- To help us prepare our manuscript for the critique session
I also gave out a handout about word length in children’s books, based on Cynthea Liu’s book: Writing for Children and Teens: A Crash Course (How to Write, Revise, and Publish a Kid's or Teen Book with Children's Book Publishers).
The second part of our meetup was devoted to preparing for the critique session itself. Some of us shared our critique experiences. Others, who hadn’t yet been to a critique session, shared what their expectations were.
After sharing the purpose of a critique, I explained that different types of books required different critique elements. I gave out the following handouts based on Becky Levine’s The Critique Group and Writing Group Survival Guide:
1. Critiquing Picture Books
2. Critiquing Beginning Reader Books
3. Critiquing Chapter Books
4. Critiquing Fiction Books
5. Critiquing Memoirs
6. Critiquing How-To or Self-Help Books
We also went through the critique guidelines I had prepared. After reading through the guidelines for both writer and critic, we proceeded to plan our major critique.
We agreed that we should all get to read each other’s writing samples. In order to do that, we would have five people critiqued during the next meetup, and the others would be critiqued in the following sessions. We also agreed to email everyone our writing samples on or before the 30th of August, to give our fellow scribblers time to make notes on each one before the meetup on September 4th.
We ended the meetup half an hour later, our binders filled with worksheets and hand-outs, and our minds crammed full with new information.